Designs for Life-Enhancing Economies in Anthropological Perspective

New visionary designs for more life-enhancing economies – such as circular economy, regenerative leadership, degrowth, and commoning – have recently emerged as potent reactions to dominant capitalist practises. RE-ANIMATE explores how such designs are translated into practise, focusing on both the challenges and the potentials of doing economy differently.

Photo: Colourbox
Photo: Colourbox

Spurred by the critical condition of the world, new visionary designs for life-enhancing economies have gained much traction in recent years. With the aim of designing economic activities that are conducive to life, being sustainable, regenerative, and relational, these designs seek to reform or replace established capitalist practises that have proven to negate human and non-human life by way of unsustainable, degenerative, and growth-oriented logics. By emphasising the potential vitality of all constituents of the world, the living ecosystem, and the interconnectedness of humans and non-humans, the designs aim to restore to life, or re-animate, economic thought and action.

The purpose of RE-ANIMATE is to trace and analyse how particular designs for life-enhancing economies are enacted, challenged, reworked, or obfuscated in the effort to rethink and reform dominant capitalist understandings and activities. Linking field studies and anthropological theories, the ambition is thus to create new knowledge on the convergences and divergences between established, life-negating growth logics and diverse, life-enhancing designs for novel economies and ways of being.



RE-ANIMATE investigates designs for life-enhancing economies with a special emphasis on the practices and complexities of realising such designs in concrete social, cultural, organisational, and political domains. More specifically, the project builds on three linked hypotheses:

  1. Designs for life-enhancing economies evince an animistic condition of being, understood as an ontological perception of the world and its non-human entities as being alive and of humans as being inextricably bound up with them
  2. Due to this animist ontology, most commonly associated with non-Western societies, these designs seek to catalyse radically innovative paths to more livable economies
  3. By so doing, the translation of the design visions into everyday practice highlights challenges of creating and recognising diverse economies in societies dominated by a capitalist ethos


In response to deep-rooted capitalist practices and logics, designs for novel modes of living and being are urgently needed, which calls for research to explore and confront the forces that may stand in the way of economic experimentation. Therefore, in this project, we seek to make three substantial contributions:

  • Empirically: to elucidate the strategies, practices, and obstacles of enacting life-enhancing economies in particular domains
  • Theoretically: to generate new understandings of the complex interplay between established capitalist logics and emerging designs for re-animating economic thought and action
  • Practically: to bring key insights into practice as catalysts for innovation and change through dialogic encounters with relevant stakeholders



Table of Contents

  • Regenerative Leadership in Corporate Organisations
  • Eco-Villages as Models for Sustainable Living
  • Doughnut Economics for Circular Development in Amsterdam
  • Revaluation of Ancient and Medieval Urban Spaces and Livelihoods in Italy

Regenerative Leadership in Corporate Organisations

This project investigates what has recently been termed “the dawn of a new leadership era”. Under the concept of regenerative leadership, new ideas have converged to foster a field of leadership aiming to depart from the dualisms of Western modernity, perceived to have disconnected humans from nature and mind from matter. Instead, a call is made for designing a way of leading based on principles that serve life; that is, to view organisations as living systems, learn from nature’s cyclical rhythm of life, and embrace the relationality of humans and non-humans. Based on fieldwork among leaders endorsing regenerative leadership, this project explores how designs for regenerative life-enhancing organisations are enacted in business corporations?

Contact: Kasper Tang Vangkilde, PI

Eco-Villages as Models for Sustainable Living

This project delves into the recent development of eco-villages in Denmark with a specific focus on how their ideals and principles of connecting humans and non-humans enter into architectural design as models for new sustainable living. While eco-villages were traditionally founded in opposition to what was seen as unsustainable living in mainstream society, this focus has recently moved into corporate strategies and housing policies as designs of standardised, high-tech, and life-enhancing communities ready for consumers to purchase. By studying the efforts to design sustainable communities building on non-dualist and relational ideas of life, the aim of this project is to map and analyse how actors converge and diverge in the attempt to integrate the ideals of eco-villages into new economic-political domains.

Contact: Simon Westergaard Lex, co-PI

Doughnut Economics for Circular Development in Amsterdam

This Ph.D. project investigates a particular design framework for circular development: Doughnut Economics. Casting the municipality of Amsterdam as case study, the project focuses on the practices by which the municipality seeks to implement the “Doughnut principles” as the first city in the world. Developed by economist Kate Raworth, these principles aim to bring humanity into the sweet spot of the doughnut; that is, between the inner ring that ensures human well-being and the outer ring that denotes the ecological ceiling of the planet. Working with and not against the cycles of the living world, the design framework replaces the dominant take-make-waste logic with circular practices by which resources are not used up, but live on in circulation. Based on long-term fieldwork, the project explores how this design framework is translated into practice by the municipality, including how it implicates civil society and prompts new local initiatives and unintended quandaries.

Contact: Line Kvartborg Vestergaard, PhD scholar

Revaluation of Ancient and Medieval Urban Spaces and Livelihoods in Italy

Following the recent drastic impoverishment of urban dwellers, Italian rural towns and villages are being revalued and repopulated. The revival of ancient (agora) and medieval (borgo) forms of urban living have become the focus of citizens, politicians, and architects. This postdoc project explores the design processes involved in the reassessment of the relationships between livelihood, materiality, and cultural heritage, and the role these play in creating community economies. The project highlights how various public and private actors negotiate and re-design local infrastructures in order to accommodate the returning diaspora. The central question is how the re-articulations of human/non-human relations are tied to novel modes of being, and how these are negotiated with concurring modern understandings of livelihood.

Contact: Christina Jerne, Post Doc


All projects unfold through a shared methodological framework inspired by design anthropological principles. Four overlapping phases – what we call the four I’s – structure all projects:

  • Inquiry: empirical data are generated through ethnographic fieldwork, with each researcher moving to “where the action is”
  • Insights: the empirical material is analysed within the frames of economic anthropology, ontological design, and other frameworks and concepts
  • Intervention: the analytical insights are presented to interested interlocutors and relevant stakeholders by way of what we term dialogical encounters
  • Impact: the research results are published in academic outlets and disseminated in public talks and a practice-oriented book



An advisory board has been established, consisting of both researchers and professionals:

  • Kirsten Hastrup, professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen
  • Katherine Gibson, professor, Western Sidney University
  • Christina Garsten, professor and principal, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study
  • Louise Koch, corporate sustainability director, Dell Technologies
  • Laura Storm, author and founder, Regenerators Collective
  • Christian Bason, PhD, CEO, Danish Design Center

Other collaborative ties include:




Name Title Phone E-mail
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Christina Jerne Assistant Professor +4535331995 E-mail
Kasper Tang Vangkilde Associate Professor +4551942767 E-mail
Line Kvartborg Vestergaard PhD Fellow +4535323525 E-mail
Simon Westergaard Lex Associate Professor +4535323458 E-mail

Funded by:

RE-ANIMATE - Designs for Life-Enhancing Economies in Anthropological Perspective is funded by Independent Research Fund Denmark

Project: RE-ANIMATE - Designs for Life-Enhancing Economies in Anthropological Perspective
Period: 2022 - 2025


Kasper Tang Vangkilde, PI
Associate professor
Mobile: +45 51 94 27 67

Simon Westergaard Lex, co-PI
Associate professor
Telephone+45 35 32 34 58

Line Kvartborg Vestergaard
PhD scholar
Mobile: +45 28 79 94 64

Christina Jerne,
Telephone:+45 35 33 19 95